Monthly Archives: April 2013

Military Life is Not a Trial to be Endured, but an Adventure to be Lived!

laura marin“Think outside the box, take real risks and work together to make big bold commitments.” I’m 11 and this is my family way of life, this is our military life.

My Dad has military orders to go to Minnesota. “Cheese and sprinkles” is a Minnesota saying. That was the first thing that came to my mind when my parents told me about our new assignment; well, my family serves too. The only thing I could relate to Minnesota was the movie “Rio.” Winters are cold, very cold. Our previous assignment places have all been warm. From the hot Texas summers to the Caribbean breezes of Puerto Rico.

I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I feel incredibly lucky that I get to experience the world in a way that so many people only dream about. I have air in my lungs, a mighty God that loves me, the most wonderful family, two legs, and a bed to sleep in. I want to view my life as an adventure and my childhood as an asset.

Never having a hometown inspires me to be a citizen of the world. Being separated from my Dad makes me realize that time together as a family is to be valued. Being a military child makes me aware of choices and options available for me in the future.

I have been a military child all my life. We have been through so much. My military life has taught me how strong we could be as a family and how much love we have to give. It has taught us that laughing is less painful than crying, that a smile is worth more than gold. That this military life is not a trial to be endured, but an adventure to be lived. We are not an ordinary family with ordinary worries — we are something extraordinary.

I’m ready to make new friends and to fit in the land of the ten thousand lakes, maybe go for a dog sled ride one day, and of course I will need to hug my family a little tighter during winters now on. We will stand tall and face it all together.

Guest Post by Laura C. Marin, age 11, military child


Editor’s note: At the time of this posting, Laura’s family’s orders were changed from Minnesota to New York. Laura’s mom says: “Flexibility, what a great strength. Enough said!”

Photo courtesy of the Marin family

The Power of Volunteering

The power of volunteeringApril 21-27 is designated as National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “Celebrate Service.” The National Military Family Association is celebrating our volunteers, both past and present, who have made a profound contribution to the Association and the military families we serve. Today’s post is written by a volunteer about a volunteer, and is just one highlight of the great work all our volunteers do!

“Never be afraid to ask what you can do, because even if something seems really small, it can still help,” says Susan Reynolds, a military spouse and volunteer for the National Military Family Association. This philosophy, an unshakable optimism, and a genuine desire to contribute to her community keeps Susan fighting hard for military kids and families. She is committed to making sure that military kids, especially those with special needs, get the quality medical care they need and deserve.

Susan’s initiative started when her son was diagnosed with plagiocephaly, a condition defined by an asymmetrical distortion, or flattening, of one side of the skull. Her son needed a reshaping helmet, which she was told was not covered by TRICARE. The helmets can cost up to $5,000. Luckily, she and her husband were able to pay for it out of their savings account. However, she realized that not every military family could afford to do the same. “I don’t care what your rank is, that is a lot of money to come up with right away,” Susan says.

Even worse than the cost of the treatment was the uncertainty and delay Susan faced in getting her son properly diagnosed. “I was really given the runaround from the military treatment facility about TRICARE and what his course of treatment was,” Susan explains. Her experience convinced her that TRICARE and DoD can and must do better to ensure that military kids, especially those with special needs, are getting the care they need.

Susan soon became a tireless advocate for military kids and families. She worked closely with our Association’s Government Relations Department to understand TRICARE policy and how it should be changed. She founded support groups for military families with special needs children and met with Congressional staff members and other officials to share those families’ stories. During this time, while her husband deployed to Afghanistan, Susan’s home was hit by a tornado, but she never allowed herself to be distracted from her objective: to fight for military children.

Thanks in part to Susan’s efforts, Congress included a provision in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directing the Department of Defense to study TRICARE and its policies regarding care for kids. The provision, known as TRICARE for Kids, aims to develop and encourage health care practices addressing the specific needs of military children. “It was just so exciting to know that something I had worked on with the Association was passed,” Susan says. For her, knowing the President signed the bill that includes this provision is among her most rewarding and exciting achievements. She continues to work hard, however, to make sure that the results of the study reflect the real needs of military children and families.

To Susan, being a volunteer for the Association is her part time job. She enjoys reading, doing research, and keeping an eye on different issues happening in her local community and the greater military community. She never hesitates to talk about the Association and the people and organizations that she is involved with. She goes to key spouse meetings, to community blueprint meetings, talks to local nonprofits, and reports information associated with the military.

Susan will continue to work with the Association and to represent military families, as she wants to ensure people’s voices are being heard. She has received various awards and recognition  including one of the Air Force General’s coins. On more than one occasion, Susan was nominated as Air Force Spouse of the Year by different spouse magazines. Nevertheless, to her, knowing that she can make a difference and serve her community is the greatest reward.

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Understanding deployment: books for military children

Understanding deployment: books for military childrenThere are many ways to help children deal with the stress they may be feeling due to the deployment of a parent. Suggestions such as keeping a journal, volunteering your time, or staying active with a sports team or hobby are fun ways to distract kids from what seems like a never-ending time in their life.

While staying busy does help school-aged children avoid dwelling on a parent being gone, how do you help younger children understand and cope with what they are feeling? Many families love reading fun books together; this time can also double as a great teaching moment to help young military kids.

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with your little one under a tree or in the park and enjoy one—or all—of our favorite deployment-related books geared towards children under the age of five.

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn – This book helps children learn a coping skill when encountering a change or missing someone by connecting their love of family with a “token” – or kiss in the hand. This is one of several books in a series. The author wrote another book, A Kiss Goodbye, that helps young children process moving.

Over There, by Dorinda Williams – Written by Dorinda Williams at Zero To Three, this is a great book because families can download a version of the book, print it out, and then customize the story by using their own photographs. The activity book comes in a “daddy” version as well as a “mommy” version. Military families can order this book via Military OneSource.

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst – Similar to The Kissing Hand, this book teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an “invisible string.” While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.

This is a short list of the many books military families have found helpful. What military-related children’s books do you recommend?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Moving in the Military From a Kid’s Point of View

Moving in the military from a kid's point of viewDo you enjoy moving? Some people might say no, but I love it!! Since I am a military child, I get the opportunity to live many different places, some of which people save all of their lives to get to.

I personally think that the best part of moving is getting to experience new cultures. I myself have lived in eight different places, in six different countries, and on three continents. Yes, it can be challenging to get adjusted, but I get used to it pretty easily. For example, in Africa, I had to get used to people eating with their hands, while sharing the same bowl. I know what you’re thinking, GROSS!!!! That’s what I thought too, but after some time I enjoyed doing it also. Here in Italy it was a bit easier to adjust because it is not a third world country. Trying to learn another language is still difficult though. Thankfully, the Italian people are helpful.

Being a military child gives me lots of opportunities. For example, last week I got to go on a field trip to Padova. We had the chance to go to Galileo’s Planetarium, the anatomical theater, and St. Anthony’s church. These are all places that people save up to go to, and by the time they have enough, they are walking with a cane. I am twelve, and I just got to go for the day. How cool is that?!?!?!?! In Mali, I got to go to Djenne, a big town in the north. There, we got to see the biggest mosque in Mali. For other people to get there, we’re talking fortunes!!! My family and I got to go there in our car for winter break.

Every time that I am about to leave a place to move to another I ask myself these questions. Will I make new friends, will I like my teacher, and will they have sports? When I get to the destination, I realize that I should not have been worried at all.

Last, but not least, whenever I move to a new place I get to try new foods. In France, it was the delicious escargot. In Mali it was definitely the moist sheep stuffed with couscous. Here in Italy it is a tie between the gelato and the pizza. You can find gelato in almost every town here. Here, the pizza is cooked in a stone oven. Yum!!!

Even now, I am getting ready to move to Senegal next year. I am very excited to go, and I can’t wait to find out what it is like. Africa, here I come!!!

Guest Post by Elizabeth Pepper, age 12, military child

Advocacy on Capitol Hill: a military spouse’s perspective on speaking up for her own

Advocacy on Capitol Hill: a military spouse's perspective on speaking up for her ownFor more than 44 years our staff and volunteers, comprised mostly of military family members, have built a reputation for being the leading experts on military family issues. I had the pleasure of joining the Association’s Government Relations team last summer when my husband and I PCSed into the Washington D.C. area. As an active-duty military spouse, I have a vested interest in our unique population and hope to shed light on just one exciting facet of this position.

Currently, I am working with the offices of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), Representative Matt Cartwright (D-17th/PA), and Representative Rob Wittman (R-1st/VA) to support legislation titled Military Spouse Job Continuity Act. This legislation provides a tax credit to a military spouse to offset the cost of a new state-required license after a government-ordered move. Not only do we support federal legislation, but we also work to support military spouse licensing on the state level. Our Association believes that state legislation can expedite the employment process and Congress can alleviate the financial burden with a tax credit.

Looking at my portfolio for the Association, I focus on quality of life issues that pertain to military spouse education, employment, credentialing, financial literacy, commissaries, exchange, relocation, housing, and military construction.

I truly enjoy working with different Congressional offices to discuss issues of importance to military families. The past several weeks have been very busy! I have had the unique pleasure of visiting Capitol Hill to meet with Congressional staff from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Our Association’s accomplishments have made us a trusted resource for families and the Nation’s leaders. I look forward to visiting and working with other Congressional offices to ensure that our military families are taken care of and help communicate the stories that we hear from military families that are located around the world.

Continue to follow our Association’s advocacy work on our website, here on our blog (subscribe at top right!), and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

ccPosted by Christine Gallagher, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

So you’re going OCONUS — what happens now?

So you're going OCONUS -- what happens now?Just over one year ago, we received orders for our upcoming PCS. Instead of the familiar post we anticipated—GERMANY was our destination! While unexpected, it was not entirely unwelcome. After all, an opportunity to live in Europe seemed too adventurous to pass up! Once our initial glee subsided, I was suddenly overwhelmed with questions, worries, and uncertainties. I pored over the tiny print in my husband’s orders thinking that there must be something in there to answer my questions or tell me what my next step was. (Take my word…there wasn’t much in there to help!)

Where would we live? Is it true the German homes are all tiny stairwell housing? Could I bring my minivan? Do I need to learn German? Do I need to leave all of my furniture behind in storage? How will we get there? What about the dog? Do I need to buy new electronic devices and small kitchen appliances in 220v? What the heck is Command Sponsorship? What is in a CS packet? Do we need passports? [Does your brain hurt yet? Just remembering all of this makes mine ache a bit!]

I searched the Garrison webpages and checked out the newcomer guides for bits of information, but I got frustrated trying to piece it together. I spoke with friends that had been OCONUS and made contact with a few people that were in Germany to find more answers. What I really wanted was for someone to take my hand, tell me to stop worrying and give me a few steps to get started in this crazy PCS process. Why wasn’t there a handbook titled “So You’re Going OCONUS?” Well, here it is, my fellow OCONUS adventurers and worriers…a handbook to get you started!

So, You’re Going OCONUS…

Step 1. Take a deep breath and squeal with glee because ADVENTURE is coming!

Step 2. Take a deep breath and hang on to your sense of humor, because getting there may be stressful!

Step 3. You have a million questions right now. Scribble them all down so you don’t worry about forgetting them and then put the list away for now. I promise, you’ll get to it ALL!

Step 4. Determine whether it is an unaccompanied tour or if you can apply for Command Sponsorship. Command Sponsorship means that the military command is sponsoring your extended stay in a foreign country. (Some locations, like Germany, are nearly all Command Sponsored. Other areas are required to be unaccompanied tours. Each area has different rules regarding length of tours, remaining time in service, etc.) Your Personnel Officer or Assignments Manager should be able to help you with this.

Step 5. Schedule a physical (or well-woman exam) for all dependents, if they have not had one in the last 12 months. For children under two, a well-child exam is required within the last six months. This is to ensure that everyone’s medical records are up-to-date.

Step 6. Schedule your Exceptional Family Member Program Screening. There is usually a packet of papers (medical histories, medical records releases, and developmental screenings) to fill out, so pick this ahead of time. If you have civilian providers off-post, the screening will likely also require records from those providers, so make sure you get record releases for them as well. The EFMP Screening is to ensure the area you will be living has adequate medical services for your family’s needs. The screening will usually be done at the nearest Military Treatment Facility.

Step 7. Start the passport process. Official passports are required for travel and can take anywhere from 6-12 weeks to be completed. You must apply through the passport office at your nearest military installation. They can be used to travel from the US to the country on your orders only. Tourist passports are recommended if you plan to do any additional travelling during your assignment. Bear in mind, birth certificates get mailed off to the Department of State with new passport applications. So, unless you have extra certified copies of your birth certificates, you must wait for one passport (with birth certificate) to arrive before you do the other passport. I would suggest applying for your official one first; without it you won’t go anywhere, but your service member still has to arrive by that report date! (Tip: Depending on the state, requesting extra certified birth certificates is easy to do online, inexpensive, and arrives quickly.)

Step 8. Start researching your destination! Contact the Relocation Office for information. Next, work those military friends! The odds are good that someone’s been there recently or knows someone who has; use those connections as a resource. Official and unofficial Facebook pages have popped up for each location. Try searching the installation name in Facebook and see what pages exist. Making contact with people in the area is a great way to get school recommendations, housing suggestions, get a feel for size/storage options in the new housing areas, etc. A word of caution: be sure to fact check any advice you are given with the appropriate agency before making any decision. (For example, check with Transportation before you sell all your furniture because Suzy Q. told you that you can only bring 2,000 lbs of household goods with you!) And, of course, be sensible with your personal information as you make contacts.

Step 9. Start looking at the calendar and think about your travel plans. Your transportation office will be able to give you delivery estimates for your vehicle, household goods, and unaccompanied baggage.

Step 10. Remember that list from Step 3? Get it back out and take another look at it. I’ll bet you’ve eliminated quite a few of your questions by now! Go ahead, congratulate yourself! And enjoy the adventure!

What tips would you offer to military families moving overseas?

Posted by Jennifer Herbek, Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Hmm, what to do with your tax refund? 6 tips for military families

Hmm, what to do with your tax refund? 6 tips for military familiesWill your family receive a tax refund this year? The average tax refund is around $2,800 and slightly more for direct deposit refunds. Even if your refund is more or less than the average, we have a few tips to make your money work for you.

Military families encounter fluctuations in household income for a variety of reasons including: deployment and training incentives; bonuses; loss of income from a spouse’s job; or cost of living adjustments after a military move. A tax refund may provide the funds you need to help account for the changes in household income. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Review your emergency savings funds. Do you have money set aside for unexpected expenses? Out of pocket costs for an upcoming Permanent Change of Station (PCS)? Consider starting or adding money to a designated emergency savings account.
  • Pay down debt. Use your refund to pay down or pay off a high interest credit card.
  • Contribute to your retirement plan. An extra contribution to your service member’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) or your own retirement account can go a long way.
  • Deployment savings. If your service member is deployed, consider adding your refund to the Savings Deposit Program. A total of $10,000 may be deposited each deployment and will earn 10% interest annually.
  • Save for college. If you have children, you can contribute to a college 529 savings plan. Going back to school as an adult? You can put your refund towards a 529 plan for yourself, too.
  • Don’t spend your refund before your receive it. Wait for your refund to arrive before you spend the funds. You can track the status of your federal refund online.

Before you are tempted to spend the extra money on a shopping spree, review your current financial situation. It may be helpful to talk to a financial counselor at your local military installation or through Military OneSource to help you decide how to put your refund to good use.

How will you use your tax refund? 

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

Don’t break the bank: Financial resources for college-bound military kids

Don't break the bank: financial resources for college-bound military kidsSpring is the time of year high school seniors anticipate college acceptance letters and parents discuss how to pay the hefty tuition bill. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 2010 – 2011 academic year the annual price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated as follows:

    • $13,000 at public colleges
  • $36,300 at private not-for-profit colleges
  • $23,5000 at private for-profit colleges

Yikes! That is quite a bit of money for one year of post-secondary education. Thankfully, military kids are eligible for unique funding opportunities:

In-State Tuition: Dependent children of service members on active duty for a period of more than 30 days are eligible to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in the state where the service member is permanently stationed. This does not mean a military kid is eligible to receive in-state tuition rates in all 50 states, but rather the state where the family is stationed. Once the child is enrolled and paying in-state tuition rates, the child remains eligible for the in-state rate even if the service member receives orders and relocates out of state.

Post-9/11 Transferability: Active duty service members with 10 years of service may be eligible to transfer their Post-9/11 GI bill to a child.

Scholarships for Military Kids: Several organizations have scholarship opportunities for military kids. Below is a selection of opportunities. College-bound military kids are encouraged to review specific eligibility requirements and deadlines, especially as some deadlines are quickly approaching:

College-bound military kids are also eligible for the same federal financial aid opportunities as other students including:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The FAFSA is the required application from the Department of Education to determine eligibility for any form of federal financial aid.

Federal Grants:

  • Federal Pell Grant: A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Typically, Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program: The FSEOG Program provides need-based grants to help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of postsecondary education. Priority is given to those who are also Federal Pell Grant recipients.

Federal Loans:

  • Direct Stafford Loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized): Direct Stafford Loans are low-interest loans for eligible students to help cover the cost of higher education at a four-year college or university, community college, or trade, career, or technical school.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: Parents of dependent students may apply for a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay their child’s education expenses as long as certain eligibility requirements are met. Graduate and professional students may apply for PLUS Loans for their own expenses.
  • Federal Perkins Loans: A Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for both undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. This is a school-based loan program.

Federal Work-Study (FWS): The FWS allows students to earn money by working at a subsidized job, usually on the college campus.

Be sure to explore these resources to reduce your out-of-pocket costs. What other resources would you share with college-bound military kids?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

Military kids need support programs: an Operation Purple Camp testament

Military kids need support programs: an Operation Purple Camp testamentI was born into the military. My dad is a West Point graduate, and for most of my childhood I was the only one in my class who had immediate family serving in the military. Many of my peers did not know or understand what I was going through. It’s one of those things in life that unless you are living it, you can’t 100% understand it. I often felt alone and kept my feelings inside thinking nobody could relate.

But life changed as I knew it when my dad was deployed during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. That year I had turned the big 13, a significant time in every teenager’s life, and received a life changing opportunity – I attended the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple® camp. The professional camp staff with the Tsuga Community Commission that week helped me address the negative feelings I had bottled up inside about my father’s service. It allowed me to be part of a community that I didn’t know existed and feel proud of my family instead of feeling embarrassed and alone. I was able to escape the hardships and struggles, focusing on being just a kid that week.

My father deployed again to Afghanistan a few years later when I was a sophomore in high school and I was able to attend Operation Purple camp again, this time bringing my younger sister for the first time. Watching her flourish that week is something I’ll never forget. She gained confidence and a feeling of belonging that she had been lacking. Something I believe many military kids struggle with in silence.

It was the Tsuga staff that brought the Operation Purple program to Oregon who opened my eyes to see that even through there aren’t any active military installations in Oregon, a support system was actually out there for military children. It helped draw out my inner leader and inspired me to become a camp counselor at Operation Purple camp and join the Tsuga staff that helped me out so much.

After two summers of working with military children, I was able to identify that my passion lies in serving others and being part of something bigger than myself. Operation Purple camp holds a special place in my heart because of what it did, not only for me, but my family and many others like it. Without these nonprofit programs, our military’s youth would be without a resource that provides support and community for our dependents that need it the most.

We cannot forget that our Kids Serve Too.

Posted by Lauren Miner, Former Operation Purple Camp Attendee and Counselor 

Helping military kids transition: the role schools and educators play

Helping military kids transition: the role schools and educators playEvery military family knows that moving is just a fact of life. My own family has moved more times than I care to count and my children, who are now 14 and 12, attended two preschools and five elementary schools. Being the new kid in school is normal for them, and like most military kids they have handled our moves smoothly – more smoothly than I have, in fact! Still, as a parent, it’s hard not to worry about the effects of so much change.

Military parents do their best to make moving as painless as possible for their children, but schools have a vital role to play as well. I know from personal experience that the new school can make a huge difference during those first days and weeks. After our last move, a greeter at the front door of the elementary school recognized immediately that my daughter was a new student and welcomed her with a warm smile and big hug on her first day. Her new classroom teacher matched her with a buddy to help show her around the school and sit with her at lunch. She came home all smiles and within a few short weeks it was as if she had never gone to school anywhere else.

Sadly, though, our good experience is not universal. Unless schools take steps to ease the transition for students as they move in and out, it can be difficult for highly mobile kids to fit in – and sooner or later, their grades will start to suffer. Knowing this, I have been excited to hear more about steps that teachers, administrators, and even our Nation’s leaders are taking to help our military kids. Last year, the Obama Administration, the Military Child Education Coalition, and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education launched Operation Educate the Educators, an effort to get colleges and universities to include information on the challenges faced by military children in their teacher education programs. More than 100 higher education institutions are already participating.

Probably no school system has more experience with transitioning students than the Department of Defense Educational Activity (DoDEA). DoDEA teachers and staff are used to highly mobile students and treat transition as a normal part of life. They have developed routines to welcome new students and – just as importantly – say goodbye to children who are preparing to move away.

Some public schools with a high concentration of military kids have followed DoDEA’s example and adopted innovative strategies to help students transition. Schools can create newcomers’ clubs or match new children with a buddy. Other schools have gone even further and set up transition rooms, a type of welcome center for new families. There they can learn about school activities, community resources, receive a tour, fill out questionnaires about their needs and situation, and meet other parents and students. Another good idea is to appoint one staffer as a “transition specialist,” who can greet families when they arrive to register, keep track of whether new students are making friends, help students cope with a new set of school rules, and answer parents’ questions.

Moving is always going to be part of life in the military, but transitions don’t have to negatively affect our kids’ experience in school. Check out our Military Kids Toolkit section on Transition for more ideas to help make your child’s move a little bit easier.

What do you think schools should do to help military children transition? What has worked for you and your family? Share your experiences below.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association